Pregnancy and Birth in Pokomo Culture

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When the wife became pregnant, the mothers-in-law i.e. both the boy’s and girl’s mothers were informed. The midwives came and massaged the pregnant wife. After confirming that she was pregnant, they broke into a spontaneous dance. The midwives massaged her again during the eighth month to ensure that the baby inside was lying in the correct position.

The mother-in-law closely monitored the progress of her daughter-in-law’s pregnancy. She periodically informed her counterpart on the progress of the younger woman’s pregnancy.

The ninth month was crucial. When the labour pains began, the midwives were called to attend to her. She was removed from her main house to a small secluded hut known as nyumba ya heremani where she would give birth and stay for the next one month. Heremani is a term which refers to a woman that had given birth but still in seclusion. Nyumba ya heremani could, therefore, be equated with a labour ward-cum-convalescence room for the pregnant woman. The vigilant midwives ensured that the woman gave birth without problems. They handled any labour complications.

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Outside the secluded hut, women danced frantically to the fast beat of kubfanga dance. No men were allowed near-by. Even young girls who had not given birth were not allowed to go near the hut. On hearing the first cry of the baby, the women outside stopped dancing and asked, “Is it a boy or a girl? The midwives inside answered appropriately. All would then ululate in chorus and more women joined the traditional dance. News of the birth of a baby was received with great joy among the Pokomo. Women jumped, sang and danced ecstatically with joy outside the house. This kind of dance to celebrate the birth of a new baby was called hali.

They sang songs to remember the mother and the pains she felt at giving birth. The men-folk went to drink beer after confirming that the mother and baby were in a good state of health.Immediately after giving birth, the woman tightly tied a piece of cloth round her stomach. This was known as kudzifunga mkomboo. The aim was to hold the loose stomach together and finally help it return to its normal shape and size. The Pokomo believed that women who did not do this developed large stomachs after giving birth which spoilt their feminine shapes.

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The woman who had given birth stayed indoors for a whole month during which she did not work nor go out openly. If she had to go out, she covered her whole body. She had to remain incognito to the public lest someone wish her evil things. She was attended to by her mother-in-law or sister and the midwives. They all slept in the same secluded hut, nyumba ya heremani.

Hot fish soup (hodza) was served to the woman intermittently between meals to keep her appetite high. Fish soup was usually served together with manofu (mashed fish fillet). At breakfast time, she was served with heavy tea and bread or bananas cooked with meat. She was fed with whatever type of food she liked if it was available. This special food cooked for a woman who had given birth was known as damvi. Any food which remained was eaten by females. Boys were discouraged from eating it lest they acquire womanish behaviour. The windows in the woman’s hut were fixed with curtains to cut off light. Darkness was required to brighten the skin of the new mother. After a month, women gathered once more outside the secluded hut to celebrate.

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When the celebration was at its peak, the wife also came out and danced. Immediately, the women would sing “Ise muntu kaku?” i.e. “where is the baby’s father?” and the husband emerged out of the crowd to dance with the wife. This was one of the most interesting moments of the whole celebration. The woman returned to her marital house and was then free to go about her day-to-day household chores. She no longer secluded herself nor was she looked after by anybody.

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Edward M. Yesse is a Pokomo from Ngao. He was born on 18th December, 1957. He passed through Ngao Primary School, Tarasaa High School and the University of Nairobi where he graduated with an Upper Second Class Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Public Administration in 1986. In addition, he has a First Division Diploma in Constitutional Law and a First Division Diploma in Parliamentary Institutions and Procedure from the Institute of Constitutional and Parliamentary Studies, New Delhi, India, which he obtained in 1990. He is also a Parliamentary Fellow from the same Institute. He passed the Administrative Officers' Examination administered by the Public Service Commission in 1990. He obtained a Diploma in Business Management from the Kenya Institute of Management (KIM) in 2003. He attended numerous other courses. He is currently pursuing his MBA. He opted for an early retirement in June, 2013 as Regional Manager with the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) due to personal reasons. E-mail: edwardmyesse@yahoo.com Mobile No: 0722647327 or 0733860825

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